Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Investment, Khalid al-Falih, on Tuesday said that the Kingdom came out “ahead” of the COVID-19 pandemic and proved its resilience, at the Future Investment Initiative (FII) Summit in Riyadh.
“Here in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, I’m happy to say that despite all of the uncertainties… we really came out ahead, relatively speaking, there have been some suffering. There have been some losses, but the Kingdom, proved its resilience,” al-Falih said.
For his part, John Defterios, Senior adviser at APCO Worldwide and a Professor of Business at NYU Abu Dhabi, said the COVID-19 pandemic was “the mother of all challenges.”
Defterios praised Saudi Arabia’s handling of the pandemic.
“The trust level in Saudi society went up the social contract because they felt even though it was a very difficult, the [COVID-19 pandemic, they felt that the government was there for the strict rules, quick response to the medical challenge, the right investments, right quarantining…” he said.
Defterios, who was moderating the panel titled ‘New Social Contract: The Evolving Role of Business and Government,’ asked al-Falih what the number one lesson was from the pandemic.
“Obviously COVID has been a shock, it’s a shock to businesses, it’s a shock I think, most fundamentally to us, at the personal level for families,” al-Falih said.
“Our sense of security was shaken by the unknown.”
The fifth edition of Saudi Arabia’s annual investment forum, FII, is taking place between October 26 to 28 this year in the Kingdom’s capital Riyadh under the theme of ‘Invest in Humanity.’
‘Delicate balance between lives and livelihoods’
Al-Falih added that Saudi Arabia, being the heart of the Muslim world, was quick to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
He recalled that the Kingdom “banned entry into the Holy Mosques of Mecca and Medina and restricted prayers in mosques and ultimately stopped prayers in mosques,” as a precaution, while the government had a “strong focus on preserving livelihoods.”
“Saving lives was the first priority, but we managed to achieve that delicate balance between lives and livelihoods and we made sure that business continuity continues to the extent that it did not get in the way of the safety of people,” the Saudi investment minister said.
“Within the government we created mechanisms to provide timely support to companies, al-Falih said.
According to him, the Kingdom’s Ministry of Investment had a 24/7 COVID Response Center.
People could call, email, and use social media channels, reach out to ministries for issues such as goods entering the country. “So, the business community felt that the government is there for them,” the minister said.
Al Arabiya English’s Jennifer Bell contributed to this report.